MIAMI – One of the most intriguing aspects of this year’s Finals matchup is that the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have never really played each other.
Gregg Popovich sat his stars in their Nov. 29 meeting and Erik Spoelstra sat his on March 31. So there’s really no head-to-head data to look at in previewing the series.
The two teams played once last season, but both Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade missed that one. Besides, both of these teams have evolved quite a bit in the 16 months since that game.
The Heat have fully embraced their pace-and-space style, which elevated them to the No. 1 offense in the league. The Spurs, meanwhile, took a good look at their defensive numbers and figured out how to get back to being a top-three D. At the same time, the Heat regressed a few points per 100 possessions defensively and the Spurs did the same offensively.
Still, they were two of the three teams– Oklahoma City was the other — that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the regular season. And we’ve now got a matchup of the best offensive team and the best defensive team of the playoffs.
Heat pace and efficiency
Spurs pace and efficiency
The most efficient shots on the floor are at the rim and from the corners. And a deeper look into the numbers shows that both teams are strong, both offensively and defensively, from those spots. It’s as if both coaches know what they’re doing. (more…)
SAN ANTONIO — Of course, Tim Duncan has changed since he entered the NBA 16 years ago.
Older and wiser.
Lighter and faster.
Let’s not say better for a 14-time All-Star with two MVP awards and four championships on his resume, but certainly very effective as he leads the Spurs into The Finals and a quest for a fifth title.
Yes, leads. For while this spring has been a long overdue coming-out party for point guard Tony Parker as perhaps the game’s best point guard, what the Spurs have achieved and how far they’ve climbed wouldn’t have been possible without the transformation of Duncan’s body and his game.
Coach Gregg Popovich calls him the Spurs “psychological foundation,” the one who makes everything possible.
But the fact Duncan can continue doing that at the advanced basketball age of 37 is what has raised eyebrows and dropped jaws. It is not like Duncan simply showed up in the fourth quarter of the clinching Game 6 in the conference semifinals against Golden State and made the plays that made the difference or he came out of nowhere to pull the Spurs’ wagon in overtime of the critical Game 2 win over Memphis in the Western Conference finals.
Playing 30.1 minutes per game in the regular season, most in three years, Duncan averaged 17.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game, numbers that were good enough to get him voted onto the All-NBA first team. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 39 in 1986 has been an older selection to the first team and the gap from 1998 to 2013 matches the 15-year span of excellence.
Through the first three rounds of the playoffs, Duncan has averaged 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while playing 34.4 minutes.
If the Spurs go on to defeat the Heat in The Finals, Duncan will have won championships in three different decades, an unprecedented feat.
“Timmy amazes me with his discipline on and off the court,” Popovich said. “A lot of people would like to be able to play a sport at that elite level for so many years, but what they don’t realize is the full commitment that it takes. It’s not about just playing games and working in every practice. It’s being mindful of everything that you put into your body. It’s being dedicated to doing all of the necessary things in the offseason so that you can show up perform during the season.”
As the years seemed to take a toll on the Spurs, there were changes that needed to be made. The team had been swept out of the playoffs by Phoenix in 2010, upset as the No. 1 seed by Memphis in the first round of 2011 and then built a 2-0 lead on Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals in 2012 and then was steamrolled by four straight losses.
While the team was making a strategic and stylistic change from a pound-it-inside, low-post offense of his early career to a step-on-the-gas transition attack fueled by Parker, Duncan knew that one of the biggest changes would have to come to himself.
Contrary to an image that has been wrongheadedly perpetuated by those who can’t look deeper than his emotionless expressions on the court, it was his passion for the game, his fiery, intense competitive nature that drove Duncan to remake his body.
“Anybody who doesn’t credit him that way is probably an idiot,” Popovich said.
Duncan spent the past two off-seasons dropping 25 pounds from his previous playing weight of 255 to 260 pounds and now looks positively lean, a loose collection of muscles and tendons.
“The last couple of years, my game has declined and changed,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to let it go. I wanted to play as well as I can, as long as I can.”
While the Spurs have steadily made their offensive shift toward Parker as centerpiece, they have always had Duncan as the main mast of their ship that keeps them sailing forward even while he did an extreme makeover of his body.
“That’s his passion for the game and that passion is part of what makes him such a great leader,” said forward Matt Bonner, who has been Duncan’s teammates since the 2006-07 season. “He sets a great example for everybody. He’s always putting in the work before practice, after practice, in the training room.
“He’s the utmost professional, has that drive, that passion. Considering everything he’s accomplished and considering the credibility he has in everyone else’s eyes in the game, you see that in him and it only makes you want to emulate it.”
On top of all the other challenges that come from aging, Duncan has performed at a steady, elite level all through a season when he knew his marriage was coming apart. It was revealed 10 days ago that his wife Amy has filed for divorce. Yet through it all, the intensely private man never gave even an inclination in public of his pain or his problems. Duncan merely went about delivering the kind of steady, solid performance that the Spurs have perennially expected, always needed to chase those championships and now he’s got them back on the doorstep for the first time since 2007.
“It’s been a long time, and I know what the struggle is,” Duncan said. “I know the luck you have to have, the health you have to have, the team you have to have, all that stuff that has to go into it to make it back here.
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect about these years. My game has changed, and my role is different on this team. It’s kind of reverted a little bit over the last however many games, and I’m being called on a little more.
“I love playing and I’m going to miss it when I’m gone. So I’m enjoying every minute. I know my time is running short here. Every minute I’m on the court — practice, whatever it might be — I’m enjoying being here.”
Because if the Memphis Grizzlies, with their trio of All-Defensive Team performers, can’t slow down shifty San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker in tonight’s Game 3 as the Western Conference finals finally resume at the “Grindhouse” (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), this series is history.
“It’s not easy is it?” Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol said following the team’s shootaround. “They do a good job of creating space, creating gaps. It helps them having Matt Bonner spread out or Danny Green in the corner helps, or Manu [Ginobili], that helps creating those gaps and those lanes. But we have to do a better job of staying on the ball, pressuring him, attacking him on the other end.”
That responsibility lies with Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
As Gasol said, it ain’t easy. Parker’s killed Memphis all season. In four regular season games he averaged 25.5 ppg and 6.5 apg. He shot 50.7 percent from the floor and got to the free throw line 30 times, more than against any team except Houston (31). In the first two games of the West finals, Parker’s gone for 20 and nine, and was still lethal in Game 2 on a 6-for-20 night with 15 points and 18 assists.
Parker’s first step is the key. Once he’s by his man, he’s in the lane and at that point is options — drive it all the way, toss up a floater, kick it out for a 3 — seem endless.
“He’s top five for sure,” Conley said, ranking Parker’s quickness against other top point guards. “But the thing is it doesn’t look quick, but it’s deceptive. He’s very quick with his first step and he’s good and crafty with the ball once he gets around you, which makes it even worse. I love to guard the best. I love to guard Tony. We’ve got a lot of defensive-minded guys on our team and I’m one of them, so I love the challenge.
“But I’ll also do whatever it takes for our team as well. If Tony Allen’s the better matchup or maybe he does a little bit better on him than I do I’m fine with it and I’ll let him do that.”
As for Allen, who helped turn the second-round series with his late-game defense on Kevin Durant, sticking Parker more in Game 3?
“How much more do you want Tony Parker to be guarded by Allen?” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins retorted. “He’s been guarding him most of the series. If I put him more it would be the whole game. Is that what you want?”
Parker said the calf bruise that bothered him in the last round is now fine and that the three-day break between games was a wonderful thing for him, allowing him to get plenty treatment, plenty of rest and plenty of time to think about how the Grizzlies will attack him.
“I’m going to try to adapt to whatever defense they’re going to do, if they’re going to trap me or whatever, I’m going to have to trust my teammates. I’ve been doing that all season long so whatever they are going to propose, I am going to take whatever the defense gives.”
Conley said the plan is for him and whoever else takes a turn on Parker to apply pressure earlier and make Parker work harder to get the Spurs into their sets. Then it becomes a defense-on-a-string concept to defend their precision pick-and-rolls and keep Parker from slithering into the lane at will.
“We had the same issue with Chris Paul,” Hollins said. “They’re great point guards and great point guards figure out a way to get in the paint. You just got to limit those amount of times that they get there and make sure that guys are flowing back to their own men so they’re not giving up wide-open 3s.”
SAN ANTONIO – All teams have their identities. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins hardly was creating the kind of profile that would go over big on Match.com when he described his bunch as “a fat, grumpy, grubby person.”
The Spurs have their identity too, and when they trudged back out onto the court for the start of overtime, nobody carried the weight of what had happened on his shoulders more than 37-year-old Tim Duncan.
For 16 seasons, he has been their rock and foundation through four championships and now eight trips to the Western Conference finals.
For longer than many of his teammates have been out of elementary school, he has been their cool head and road map out of turns down the wrong street.
So an 18-point lead with just under two minutes left in the third quarter and a seven-point lead with a tick less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter had been swallowed up in the maw of the hungry, grubby Grizzlies. And as has been the case for more than a decade and a half, the Spurs relied on their identity to find themselves again.
Duncan took a feed from Tony Parker and dropped in a layup on San Antonio’s first possession of overtime. He grabbed a rebound off a missed jumper by Parker and converted the follow bucket. Then he did a nifty little twinkle-toe dance right down the middle of the lane and let go with an eight-foot floater that kicked high off the back rim and then settled into the net.
The old veteran who should have been the most tired guy on the floor scored every field goal by the Spurs in overtime and allowed his team to escape with a 93-89 victory that could have been a stunning flip-flop and crushing blow.
It’s easy to say the Spurs are right back where they were exactly a year ago, with a 2-0 lead and in the conference finals and maybe already peeking ahead to a stay on South Beach to kick sand with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat.
But despite their blowout win in Game 1, nothing against the growling, grabbing Grizzlies is ever easy.
Since the first day of training camp last October, coach Gregg Popovich has described what happened to his team as “identity theft.”
The Thunder played smarter, tougher, more aggressively and more decisively. So much of the emphasis all through this season has been to insist that his team never forget and never back down from who they are.
However, the vagaries of the NBA playoff schedule, which is made up to honor the whims and wishes of TV executives, had delivered an team exhausted by an test of endurance against Golden State straight into Game 1 against Memphis with barely a chance to catch a breath. Then they had to come right back and play Game 2 on Tuesday night while LeBron and D-Wade have had time to pick out Eastern Conference finals wardrobes with a pre-Memorial Day extended weekend off.
This was a game the Spurs needed to stash into their travel bags as they head into a long-awaited three-day respite of their own to heal those playoff tweaks and aching muscles, especially those on the body of a 37-year-old walking legend.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” channeled Manu Ginobili, the Argentinian Yogi Berra. “That’s the only thing we learned.”
For the longest time, it was a night to celebrate Parker, who has been one of — if not the – best point guards in the game while flying beneath the radar of notoriety. He dealt a career-high 18 assists to go with his 15 points and rolled through the Grizzlies’ lane at will.
Late in the third quarter it appeared to be another game that has been unusually customary for the Spurs this spring, where their foundational player Duncan would not even play down the stretch.
In the critical Game 6 against the Warriors, Popovich took a struggling Duncan out for the final 4:28 and allowed Tiago Splitter to close out the series.
On Sunday against the Grizzlies, Duncan made a careless pass that led to a Jerryd Bayless breakaway and then missed a 14-foot jumper that brought in Matt Bonner as a sub late in the third quarter as Memphis rallied. By the time Duncan returned, the Spurs had pulled out to their biggest lead of the game without him.
It was an odd trend, said some Spurs. Merely a coincidence, said others. They couldn’t run the entire gantlet without Duncan.
And they wouldn’t.
“It was great,” Duncan said. “I was glad I was able to play in overtime … just happy to be out there and do anything.”
Everything, really, when the Spurs needed him most. Which has always been their identity.
SAN ANTONIO — When most people think of the hard-nosed defense in a playoff series between the Grizzlies and Spurs, the images that come to mind are the steely gaze and the locked-in intensity of Tony Allen, the quick hands of Mike Conley or those long arms and smothering style of Kawhi Leonard.
Then there’s Matt Bonner.
Don’t snicker. None other than Kobe Bryant nicknamed him the Red Mamba for Bonner’s ability to fearlessly knock down big shots in big situations. But in the playoffs, Bonner has also been part boa constrictor for helping to put the squeeze on opposing big men.
It was a team effort with Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw all sharing the rugged duties. Bonner’s main responsibility in Game 1 was to front Randolph and try got prevent him from getting the ball in the first place. The eight shots by Z-Bo were his fewest in a game since April 15 and the single bucket scored was his career playoff low for any game in he’s played at least 10 minutes.
“We found something that works for him,” Duncan said. “He’s comfortable doing that. I think when the whole team is locked in knowing he’s going to do that, we feel pretty confident.”
The added bonus of Bonner’s defensive contribution is that it allows Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to give him more playing time and take advantage of his outside shooting ability that stretches Memphis’ defense. Bonner drilled four 3-pointers in Game 1 as the Spurs set a franchise record with 14 3-pointers.
LOS ANGELES – Two examples of what makes the Spurs — unselfish, deep, humble, precise, unwavering — the Spurs: Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair.
Both players have been shoved out of the rotation at different times. Tiago Splitter reduced Blair to mostly spot duty this season. Boris Diaw severely cut into Bonner’s minutes. Yet, whenever the two reserves are needed most, there they are ready to serve. And produce. Both are now needed even more now with Diaw recovering from back surgery and Splitter sidelined for at least Sunday’s Game 4 against the Lakers (7 p.m. ET, TNT) with a sprained left ankle.
Bonner, the lone Spur outside the Big Three on the last title team in 2007, has been a nuisance to Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard, doing whatever’s necessary to corral him, including implementation of the “Bonner Bear Hug,” a maneuver surely passed along by former Spurs defensive genius Bruce Bowen. The move has been particularly effective against Howard, who gets frustrated that he can’t get a shot up and must march to the free throw line where he’s 24-for-40 in the series.
In 80 minutes of action in the first three games in which the Spurs have taken a 3-0 lead, Bonner has 26 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, three blocks and 10 fouls. His plus-minus is a whopping plus-56, including plus-29 in Game 2.
He was so effective that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni actually said that the Lakers’ goal was to get Bonner out of the game. Imagine that?
“I don’t even know what to say to that,” Bonner said prior to Game 3.
Bonner, also known as the “Red Rocket” for obvious reasons, averaged just 13.4 mpg in the regular season and played in just 68 games. But with Diaw out, Bonner’s minutes have been ramped up to 26.7. He’s 9-for-14 from the floor and 5-for-7 beyond the arc. At one point in Game 3′s 120-89 beatdown of the Lakers, Bonner received a pass at the top of the arc and the L.A. crowd actually let out a collective groan, anticipating the inevitable swish.
“Matty’s a character guy, he’s a team person, he’ll do whatever’s asked of him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “If he starts, if he doesn’t play, his work ethic will stay the same. He’s just a high-character individual who will give everything he has no matter the situation. So we’re fortunate to have him.”
Similarly on the outs was Blair, who averaged 14.0 mpg in 61 games. He didn’t score in 12 total minutes in Games 1 and 2, then came through with 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting to go with seven rebounds and three assists in 14 minutes in Game 3. Howard even brought up Blair’s shooting in his postgame comments, somewhat suggesting that Blair’s Tony Parker-like teardrop shot was a bit lucky.
Blair refuted such a notion on Saturday.
“I practice that shot before every game,” Blair said. “I call it the T.P. Tear Drop.”
Blair is the most logical candidate to get the Game 4 start in place of Splitter. He’s looking forward to the increased minutes because, obviously, every player wants to play in big games. But also the 6-foot-7, 270-pound center out of Pittsburgh admitted that he sees the opportunity to open the eyes of teams across the league. A free agent this summer, Blair said he loves San Antonio, but would welcome a chance to play more somewhere else.
“It’s just about knowing where you’re at and what your situation is,” Blair said. “In front of me is Tim Duncan and I would never mind in my life sitting behind Tim Duncan, or anyone else on the team. We’ve got great players and everybody accepts their role perfect. So all of that [about] I’m not getting minutes and stuff like that, that really doesn’t bother me. My duty is to do all the dirty work and be the junkyard of this team, so I’m going to do that. I have no problem with that. If I get in a better situation I think a lot of people will see more of my game.”
Blair has long been a name on the trade block, but through four seasons in which Blair has averaged as many as 21.4 mpg and started 62 and 65 games in consecutive seasons, the Spurs never pulled the trigger.
Right now they’re happy they didn’t.
“We haven’t played him as much as he’s wanted to play,” Popovich said. “To his credit, DeJuan has been a true pro.”
SAN ANTONIO — The Black Mamba didn’t tweet. Something about not wanting to be a distraction.
So Kobe Bryant sat at home again on the sofa in Orange County, this time resting his surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon and both his thumbs.
The Red Mambadid tweak. And jostle. And shove. And pull. And prod. It was all about being as bothersome as a mosquito at a nudist colony.
Matt Bonner never rested for even a single one of the 29 minutes that he had to contest, confront and confound Dwight Howard.
The Lakers All-Star center scored 16 points, pulled down nine rebounds and blocked four shots, but also picked up five fouls and a technical in another one of those nights when he did so much head-shaking that you wondered if it might fall right off his broad and muscular shoulders.
This is life without Kobe for the Lakers, nobody to bail them out at the end of difficult possessions or do some of the improbable things that might make the Spurs defense loosen up and have to guard the perimeter.
There were times in the first half of Game 2 when Howard was a monster at both ends of the floor, muscling inside for rugged buckets and trying to swat down any shot that the Spurs tried. He snarled after rejecting a Tim Duncan shot and he roared after making back-to-back rejections on Tony Parker.
But Howard also went up for an offensive rebound and swung a hard right elbow that caught Bonner square on his face and sent him to the floor like a bag of rocks.
The red-haired Bonner wore a sheepish smile and a red welt as he stood in front of his locker.
“You knock me down, I’ll keep getting up,” said Bonner.
Call it the Chumbawamba defense. Maybe that’s why none other than Kobe himself bestowed the nickname Red Mamba.
Or maybe it was the 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting — including another running one-hander — dubbed the “Shyhook” by the wags of the Internet.
“Matty’s a tough-minded individual,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s a heck of a competitor and a great team guy. He’ll do whatever we ask him to do. I think his family worries about him and the things we ask him to do out there.” (more…)
HANG TIME, Texas — Often in life, timing is everything. It’s the same in the NBA, too.
Just when the start of the playoffs — eight days away — is coming into sight, the Spurs are seeing stars. And scars.
The grind of the 82-game regular season just keeps grinding down the team that held onto the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference standings for months.
Boris Diaw underwent surgery for the removal of a lumbar cyst from his spine and is expected to be sidelined for three to four weeks.
The loss of Diaw comes with Manu Ginobili likely sidelined for the start of the playoffs by a strained right hamstring. Tony Parker has also missed three of the past four games with a sore neck and has been laboring through an assortment of other injuries, including a Grade 2 ankle sprain that kept him out for eight games.
Imagine that. Tim Duncan will turn 37 in just two weeks and he’s suddenly looking like the spryest guy on the roster, averaging 30 minutes, 26.5 points and 12 rebounds in April.
The loss of Diaw, at least for the first several weeks of the playoffs, could take a toll on an already undersized Spurs frontline. Can they get all the way to The Finals with a big man trio of Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner?
DeJuan Blair, who for much of the season was used only in mop-up duty, will be back in the rotation and second-year man Kawhi Leonard could be forced to play some minutes at power forward.
All of this comes at a time when the Spurs have fallen a half-game behind Oklahoma City in the race for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage in the West bracket. But to coach Gregg Popovich that is a secondary issue.
In Parker’s case, he says he wants to develop some kind of rhythm in the last four games before the playoffs begin and is lobbying to start tonight at home against Sacramento. But he’s got to convince his coach, who usually errs on the side of caution with injuries.
“You don’t worry about your playoff seeding because if that makes you play (injured players) when they shouldn’t be playing, you’re going to be screwed come playoff time anyway,” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News. “Your main concern is to have people be as healthy as possible come playoff time.
“If you’re the best team, the seeding doesn’t really matter. You wouldn’t give up first, second, third or fourth seed and say, ‘Yes, please give me fifth or sixth.’ Nobody would do that, but the best team doesn’t have to have the best record. It has to be healthy.”
a HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Coach Pop dropped some strong language on his team Saturday night.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is not an easy man to please and he was rather disgusted when reporters gathered to hear his assessment of the game. A game the Spurs won 99-97. Against the East’s sixth-seeded playoff team. And did so without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Upset that his team nearly coughed up a late lead at home, and annoyed by its general lackluster play other than Tim Duncan‘s huge night (31 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists) and Kawhi Leonard‘s second consecutive 20-point game (23 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks), Pop, whose club is 4-4 in its last eight and lost its grip Thursday night on the West’s No. 1 seed, put out this warning flare:
“Other than Timmy, in a lot of ways, it was a pathetic performance. That kind of play isn’t going to get us very far. And it’s not the first time we’ve played like that in the last few weeks. This team needs to get its head around itself and understand what it takes to be there because as a group, they don’t have it right now.”
The bluster was a reminder of one of Pop’s more memorable playoff sound-offs when, following a 100-94 Game 1 loss at Dallas in the 2010 first round series the Spurs would win in six games, he said: “We’ve got to have a few more people step up and play worth a damn. I thought we had a lot of guys that played like dogs.”
Or the line that became an instant YouTube classic from last year’s West finals opener against Oklahoma City when, miked-up during a timeout on the TNT broadcast, Pop sarcastically asked his struggling team if they were having fun yet, and then implored: “I want some nasty!”
Saturday’s rant won’t go viral or become a T-shirt slogan, but he did let his disgust be known to a team that outside of Duncan, in terms of players that actually took the court against the Hawks, exactly one owns a Spurs championship ring: Matt Bonner.
It’s been six years since the Spurs swept LeBron’s James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers. How time flies. And don’t think Pop, who has witnessed this Big Three grow older and suffer a litany of ill-timed injuries, doesn’t know this.
And now time is running out on this regular season, the franchise’s 15th in a row with 50 wins. San Antonio is headed for a 16th consecutive playoff appearance with hopes of a fifth title pinned to the health of Parker and Ginobili.
They don’t want a repeat of 2011 when the eighth-seeded Grizzlies popped the Spurs and a less-than-optimal Ginobili, who injured his right elbow in the regular-season finale, missed Game 1 and then gutted through the rest of the six-game, first-round upset wearing a heavy elbow brace.
Ginobili, who missed his fifth consecutive game Saturday with a hamstring injury, might not be back for the start of the playoffs now just two weeks away. Parker is listed as day-to-day as he nurses multiple injuries. Two nights after he limped off the floor at Oklahoma City with Popovich saying afterward he was “very concerned” that Parker might be dealing with tendinitis in his shins, the team listed their All-Star point guard and top five MVP candidate as out of the Atlanta game with a neck injury.
Getting through the West won’t be easy, starting in the opening round when the Spurs’ most probable opponent will be either the young, but dangerous Houston Rockets, or the unpredictable, but star-laden and Kobe Bryant-driven Los Angeles Lakers.
“Playing like we did right now, no,” Duncan told reporters when asked if his team is playoff-ready. “Playing at the health level we were tonight, no. Luckily, we have a little while to try to get everybody back on the court.”
Seven games away from setting an NBA record for most consecutive wins in a season, the Miami Heat are the talk of the sporting world. The defending champions have not lost a game since a 13-point setback in Indiana on Feb. 1 and have a chance — in some people’s minds, at least — to run the rest of the regular-season table. Their winning streak, the second-longest in league history, stands at 27 games.
NBA.com dispatched our game reporters to talk to those around the NBA who have seen the streak close up. Here’s a sampling of what people are saying:
Kevin McHale, coach, Houston Rockets: “The thing I’ve always been impressed about long winning streaks is the fact that you keep your concentration long enough to do it. You win 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 in a row, and you run into a bad team, and it’s late in the year, that’s usually when you stumble. I know the teams I played on went on a lot of 10, 11, 12, 13, 14-game streaks, and then we’d play a bad team, none of us would be ready, and they’d be all juiced up for us. You do get bored [when you're on a great team] a little bit, and you get complacent, and you start taking for granted you’re going to win. You need to lose one or two, and then you get refocused and play. But, as I’ve said all along — I know you guys don’t believe it — but actual human beings play this game. That’s just what happens.”
Ralph Lawler, announcer, Los Angeles Clippers: “I remember when the Los Angeles Lakers won 33 straight games in the 1971-72 season, it’s a record that I thought would never be broken. For the Heat to be approaching the mark, it’s extraordinary. Everyone is paying attention. Winning in the NBA is not an easy thing to do, and when you do it on a consistent basis, the pressure mounts. I think the players for the Heat understand what’s at stake. You can’t shut off the lights and say I’m not aware of what’s going on. LeBron James and his teammates might attempt to deflect talk about the winning streak to the media, but on the team plane and team bus, it’s all the buzz. If the Heat win 30, 31, or 32 games in-a-row, gee whiz, people will start to talk about them being world-beaters.”
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: “It’s hard to win basketball games in this league and to win ’em in a row is even harder and over 20 is really tough, so we don’t have any hate in our blood over here. We give respect when it’s due. But I would say we’re not worried about what they’re doing, it’s just that all we’re focused on is us. But every time you turn on the TV you hear it and once you really sit back and look at it, it’s impressive.”
Marreese Speights, Cleveland Cavaliers: “If you can’t get excited about playing Miami, then you’re not a basketball player. Everyone around the league is watching you because they’re all keeping an eye on them. [Those] are the games you love to play.”
George Karl, coach, Denver Nuggets: “They’ve won a lot of close games. Sacramento almost beat them, they had a close game with Philadelphia, a one-possession game. It’s a pretty amazing [streak]. Thirteen is a lot [the Nuggets had a 13-game streak and the time], so you double that … it’s pretty impressive.
Daniel Gibson, Cleveland Cavaliers: “When they go into every city, people want to see them. It’s exciting for all of us. They’re playing at such a high clip, you can’t help but want to watch them play.”
Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets: “Winning streaks are always fun to be a part of, but it is tough when you see one team win so much … No one is scared of these guys, but I think most of the league respects the way they’ve handled their business.”
Scott Brooks, coach, Oklahoma City Thunder: “I’ve never seen it in my lifetime, I mean I know the Lakers did it in the 70s but I wasn’t following the NBA in the early ’70s. But just to do what they’re doing now with the parity that we have in the league it’s pretty amazing. There’s so many games that you have to have everything go right to win. The travel, the back-to-backs, the injuries you have to overcome, the foul trouble, the turnovers, just everything about it and to win 25 straight games … give them credit because they have the mental ability to have the mindset to do that night in and night out, that’s just pretty phenomenal.”
On the way the Heat have won during their streak …
Matt Bonner, San Antonio Spurs: “The Heat have been impressive in that they’ve won in all types of fashion. They’ve won close games, blowouts. They’re rolling. Playing great. Everybody wants to be the team that’s going to break their streak, and that’s what makes it impressive, too. They’re getting everyone’s best shot.”
Gibson: “It definitely shows how focused they are because they have to come in every night prepared. It’s very tough to do because you also got to have a little luck with you because guys have to stay healthy, and everybody has to be clicking.”
Jerry Stackhouse, Brooklyn Nets: “It can be tough building a streak. When you’re constantly trying to find motivation, you can get some mental fatigue. But I think with it being so close to the end of the season and they’re trying to go into the playoffs on a high note, I don’t think it’s as tough a task. If it was earlier in the season, you feel like you’ve got so many games left and you’re not going to win them all, so this might be a good night to just chill out. I just think it comes down to their execution late in games. They trust each other. They’ve been together a while, enough now to know what to do. Their confidence is high.” (more…)